If you never got into Torchwood—the Doctor Who spin-off that began in 2006, helmed by former Who showrunner Russell T. Davies—you could perhaps be forgiven. The first two series were a bit uneven, and maybe tried a bit too hard to be dark and adult. I enjoyed them, but, then, the show had me at Jack Harkness.
If you gave it a try and quit, do yourself a favor and go watch the third series, Children of Earth. I still think about its premise and story now and then, and well…it kind of haunts me.
The fourth series—Miracle Day—was not quite as good. It felt a bit different, as the show moved to the U.S., but there are also some valid criticisms to be made of its plotting. Nonetheless, it was pretty good, and fans of the show might have reasonably expected more to follow. Instead, the show went on an “indefinite hiatus” (though this seems to have had more to do with Russell T. Davies’ personal life than with the reception of Series 4). Thus Torchwood has not graced our screens since 2011.
Several years ago, however, new Torchwood stories began to be created by Big Finish, and 2017 saw the release of an audio Season 5, with the involvement of Davies. In other words, Torchwood is very much alive; it is just at Big Finish now instead of on TV, with the original players reprising their roles in a number of audio plays set within the Torchwood universe.
That might not excite fans that want to look at things, but what should excite everyone is the recent announcement that James Marsters and John Barrowman will feature in the upcoming Torchwood: The Sins of Captain John.
The first two series of Torchwood may have been a bit uneven, but Marsters turn in the second as Capt.John—Capt. Jack’s former lover who has come to Cardiff and is up to no good—was a definite highlight.
Of course, Marsters is great in general. The story goes that it was his portrayal of Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer that prolonged the character’s life. And surely this also related to the decision to carry Spike over to Angel once Buffy had ended.
Barrowman is similarly transcendent, as he moved beyond his turn in Doctor Who to become the center of a show of his own in Torchwood. He’s the reason I gave Arrow a try, but it remains Capt. Jack that I think of as his defining role.
The involvement of either Barrowman or Marsters should be enough to get one excited about a project, but here we have the involvement of both!
Their story in the second series was a bit nuanced. They were romantically involved, but when Capt. John appears, Jack doesn’t trust him. And with good reason, as it turns out. Yet, things turn out to be more complicated than that. The antagonism of their relationship seems based largely on circumstances. John loves Jack, and, at some level, Jack loves John. But one has set himself to fighting the good fight, and the other, well…is John.
The details that have been released about the upcoming story are also interesting, with mention made of “zombies, mad scientists, hot tubs, and the talkative head of Oliver Cromwell just won’t shut up” in the synopsis of the box set.
But the line there that interests me the most is: “The stories are also set before the time when Captain Jack meets the Doctor and joins Torchwood so these characters really could go anywhere and do anything.”
What was Capt. Jack like before he met the Doctor? We got a glimpse when he first appeared in “The Empty Child,” but it is also clear that his encounter with the Doctor changed him. We kind of know how his story began, and I think we know how it will ultimately end, but there is so much in the middle that is of interest. Perhaps nothing more so than his relationship with Capt. John, and the details of it that came before what Torchwood has previously shown us. This makes The Sins of Captain John something truly worth being excited about.